My thoughts today are not of any creation by Ian Fleming, not even Chitty Chitty whatsitsname. My regular reader may recall that I have been in a battered jeep in the company of Jacek Hugo-Bader, en route for Vladivostok, in White Fever. We have reached journey’s end, the jeep has been sold and flight taken to return to the day job in Warsaw. Quite a way to celebrate your half century.
By the final few chapters the mystery of the title of the book unfolds. Jacek has been with the native tribes of the Siberian taiga, a mix of reindeer herders, shamans and sadly, of vodka. The tribes have been decimated and a number now face extinction. There are less than 2 million aborigines left in Siberia, including Evenks, Yakuts and Buryats, and in all but Tuvan these people are classed as ethnic minorities. Many have fallen below the level of 250, the critical point in survival. There remain only a dozen Alutars, 8 Karaks, 276 Tan and 237 Enets. And that was almost 10 years ago, they may be gone forever by now.
Soviet collectivisation saw a huge demise in the nomadic reindeer-herders; coralled into settlements, schools for the children, access to vodka. It is the latter which is the root cause of the problems facing the aborigine today. Suicides and murders are rampant, death comes at a young age. Often it is brought on by hallucinations, the result of a vodka binge.
Hugo-Bader has a long chat with a Shaman, a wandering healer and professionally qualified therapist. Metabolism is the key, and vodka the poison. Over aeons there has been evolution and the indigenous races of the north now have a metabolism that has a predisposition to alcohol, a capacity that is very low. They have a protein & fat metabolism, coming from a diet of meat, dairy and fish. On the other hand the Indo-Europeans have a diet of plant foods, and consequently a metabolism of protein & carbohydrate, giving a much different result when vodka is added to the mix.
Now at this point I think of the dangerous diet we have in the these parts, which strikes me as being more fat than carb added to our protein, and I think of our own alcohol related issues, for which minimum unit pricing should finally be allowed on to the statute book as a first step in trying to reduce our ills, and of the high rate of multiple sclerosis among others,but that is another matter for another day.
Having returned White Fever to the racks I picked up Tete-Michel Kpomassie’s An Afircan in Greenland. I temper my anger at the bookseller who has supplied a large print version, covered in library stamps. I can forgive the large print for my quest was for a hardback first edition and it is the first in the large print version. But for a bookseller to omit the ex-library status in a description is right up there with troughing MPs, and phone hacking. The volume is fit for the car boot sale; I’d rather have a tatty paperback on the shelves.
Kpomassie took 12 years to make his way from his home in Lome, up to Baffin Bay, and back to Paris. He set off at the age of 16, after a threatening encounter with a tree snake, and a remedy at the hands of the python priestess who then had young Michel earmarked for the snake-lovers’ hall. I’ll spare you the lizard grease ceremony for now. But he saw the light, or rather he read a book, about the Inuit in Greenland. The opening chapters are beautifully written, and we haven’t even set off on the journey yet, of which more at a later date.
The Inuit of course are another endangered race, an indigenous tribe having to adapt to the ways and ills of the White Man. Within a hundred years or so of Fitzroy bringing four Fuegian indians back to the home country to be presented to Queen Victoria, as savages saved and modernised, there were no Fuegains on the planet. The race had ceased to exist, like the Yamana and all the indigenous tribes of Patagonia, decimated by diseases introduced from civilisation. Lucas Bridges’ The Uttermost Part of the Earth, describes life among the Indians, for he was brought up there, his father having written a Yamana-English dictionary, now utterly useless, during his life with the natives.
In Australia the aborigines survive but have a notorious alcohol problem, which may be that metabolism thing again. We admire their cave paintings of 50,000 years or so, and negotiate to give them back tiny amounts of land and little value, a process ongoing with the natives of North America too. So the real danger has not been the vodka, or the measles, but the rampant exploration of the white man. In that halcyon Age of Discovery, the world opened up as the Dutch and the Portugese, the French and the English, led the ways around the sea routes, charting coasts, sharing women, drinking and educating.
The Age of Discovery was followed by the Missionary, not a position but an attempt at brainwashing. The only real way is the White Man’s Way, which must replace all shamans, all effigies and devil worship. Now pardon me for thinking that the Word spread by the great and the good still had its ink wet on the paper in comparison to the paintings in the caves. The genelaogists will tell us that the world began but six thousand years ago with Adam, Eve and an apple; and he’ll tell that story to peoples who have been singing their ancestries for aeons; to each and every race on this planet, all of whom trace back their first gene to darkest Africa, in the days before the continents shifted, the oceans formed, and the world as we know it today took shape, changing and evolving as it still does. But we have one thing to thank the missionaries for, for it was in the Evangelical bookshop that Kpomassie found his vloume of The Eskimos from Greenland to Alaska, by Robert Gessain, and changed his life forever. I wonder if there is still a python priestess down Lome way.
As for our children, well we should be teaching them how to think, not telling them what to think, and we might just allow them to find a better future for the planet.